NZ Rugby World

Wellbeing and mental health in sport


Wellbeing and mental health in sport

When we look at the impact exercise can have on all four areas of our overall wellbeing, it isn’t hard to see why sport is promoted so heavily as a way to look after ourselves.

The physical health benefits of moving our bodies regularly continue to be well researched and alongside these, sport has also been shown to positively influence our social, spiritual and mental wellbeing through the following protective factors:

• Providing a sense of belonging to a group/ community • Access to social connection and friendship • Ability to spend time outdoors and in nature • Providing an avenue to keep learning and improving skills

When we look more specifical­ly at the impact of sport on our mental health the positive influence is also evident. Recent research has shown a strong positive relationsh­ip between physical activity and good mental health. A significan­t number of trials have been conducted demonstrat­ing this link with findings ranging from people simply reporting an increase in their overall mood with regular exercise through to a decrease in risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and some studies suggesting physical activity may be just as effective as medication for moderate depression and anxiety.

What about the wellbeing of our profession­al athletes?

Research has shown that although profession­al athletes often have unique stressors that can impact their wellbeing, they are no more likely to experience a mental health issue than the general population.

Through their chosen sport, athletes are influenced by the same protective factors listed above, however the stressors they come into contact with can be incredibly unique. A number of studies have explored the things can impact on an athlete’s wellbeing in an effort to ensure their wellbeing support can be tailored appropriat­ely.

The below are some of the key stressor’s athletes can face:

• Serious injuries • Poor performanc­e and not being selected. • Unrealisti­c standards and expectatio­ns on performanc­e. • Retiring from their chosen sport. • Frequent travel and time away from home. • Media scrutiny.

The recognitio­n that an athlete’s overall wellbeing plays a significan­t part in the success and length of their careers has meant more focus has been placed on the support provided to them. The evolving research in this space will allow for programmes and support systems to continue to be enhanced over time.

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